Klee: As expected, Denver Nuggets go international route in NBA draft

By: Paul Klee
June 26, 2014 Updated: June 26, 2014 at 11:09 pm
photo - Jusuf Nurkic of Bosnia-Herzegovina, right, poses for a photo with NBA commissioner Adam Silver after being selected as the 16th overall pick by the Chicago Bulls during the 2014 NBA draft, Thursday, June 26, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Jusuf Nurkic of Bosnia-Herzegovina, right, poses for a photo with NBA commissioner Adam Silver after being selected as the 16th overall pick by the Chicago Bulls during the 2014 NBA draft, Thursday, June 26, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens) 

DENVER — In broken English and an endearing accent, Jusuf Nurkic was the Bosnian prince of brevity after the Nuggets picked him in the NBA draft.

"I come to NBA," he said simply.

Please do. And please be a baller.

Because if Nurkic, a 19-year-old center from a faraway land, turns into a real find, the Nuggets will earn a passing grade in Thursday's draft. At 6-foot-10, 280 pounds, Nurkic is the singular addition with the potential to be a star on a team without one.

Will he be Nikoloz Tskitishvili and disappear into the NBA night? Or will he be like one of the six foreign-born players who guided the Spurs to another NBA title?

We don't know yet. That's the beauty and the curse of going the international route.

But this was fitting: Soon after the Nuggets used the 16th pick on Nurkic, a flat-screen TV inside Pepsi Center switched to a replay of the NBA Finals. The Spurs, a roster with an accent, were whipping the American-made Heat. Again.

Nuggets fans should get accustomed to the international route, because draft day said more about the new front office than whether Denver will be a playoff team in 2014-15.

We learned that general manager Tim Connelly will lean hard on his international scouts - assistant GM Arturas Karnisovas and overseas director Rafal Juc - as he scours the globe to find the right pieces to build a championship team.

"I feel great about what we're doing internationally," Connelly told me recently.

When the time comes to properly grade this draft, you will need a 2011-12 Nuggets media guide, a measuring tape and a Bosnian translator.

The media guide is for Arron Afflalo, who, while not part of the Nuggets' draft class, was a part of their 2011-12 roster. He returns to Denver after a trade with Orlando.

The measuring tape is for Gary Harris, the 19th pick and a shooting guard from Michigan State, where he was listed at 6-foot-4. Wink, wink.

The translator is for Nurkic, who averaged 11.2 points and 6 rebounds in a Croatian league. I've heard about their beaches. Don't know about their big men.

I liked the Nurkic pick. Since Denver struggles to lure big-name free agents, the Nuggets must take risks and get lucky in the draft. Chances are, if you take a heavily scouted college player at No. 11, he'll be another role player, and the Nuggets already have a roster full of those.

I'm neutral on the Harris pick. I prefer bigger shooting guards, and Harris, a former high school football player, is closer to 6-2 than 6-6. My preference with the 19th pick was Jordan Adams, a guard from UCLA, or Cleanthony Early. There's a reason little ol' Wichita State was a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. The Shockers had an NBA starter, or sixth man, on their roster.

To earn playing time with the Nuggets, Harris should devote his time to becoming a superb defender. And they need one of those, so the opportunity is there.

"I'm just going to come in there and compete," Harris said.

Nuggets fans weren't thrilled when the club drafted and then traded Doug McDermott to the Bulls. But the Nuggets have invested time and funds into Danilo Gallinari, who plays the same position as McDermott, and didn't see the fit.

"I think he (Gallo) is going to be better than he was before the injury," Connelly said recently.

This draft grade comes down to Nurkic, who sounded exactly how you'd envision a 19-year-old from Bosnia would sound on the day he was drafted into the NBA.

"I am so, so, so happy," he said.

If Nurkic doesn't pan out, perhaps the Nuggets should have drafted his father. Dad is a Bosnian police officer and arm-wrestling champion. Oh, yeah, then there's this:

His father is 7-foot, 400 pounds, according to his 280-pound son.

For those keeping score at home, the Nurkic father-son combo is roughly the size of two Pot Roasts, or Terrance Knightons.

For now, Denver's draft grade is N/A. Check back in 2-3 years, when Nurkic is old enough to have a drink. In the U.S., not Croatia.

The great European hope is the one who can separate the Nuggets' draft from Meh to Masterpiece.

Twitter: @Klee_Gazette

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